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The Aristotelian Doctrine of Homonymain the Categories and Its Platonic Antecedents JOHN P. ANTON I THE ARISTOTELIAN DOCTRINEOF homonyma is of particular historical interest at least for the following reasons: (1) It appears that the meaning of homonyma was seriously debated in Aristotle's times and that his own formulation was but one among many others. Evidently, there were other platonizing thinkers in the Academy who had formulated their own variants. According to ancient testimonies , the definition which Speusippus propounded proved to be quite influential in later times. 1 (2) The fact that Aristotle chose to open the Categories with a discussion, brief as it is, on the meaning of homonyma, synonyma, and paronyma, attests to the significance he attached to this preliminary chapter. Furthermore, there is general agreement among all the commentators on the relevance of the first chapter of the Categories to the doctrine of the categories. (3) The corpus affords ample internal evidence that the doctrine of homonyma figures largely in Aristotle's various discussions on the nature of first principles and his method of metaphysical analysis. This being the case, it is clear that Aristotle considered this part of his logical theory to have applications beyond the limited scope of what is said in the Categories. Since we do not know the actual order of Aristotle's writings it is next to the impossible to decide which formulation came first. It remains a fact that Aristotle discusses cases of homonyma and their causes as early as the Sophistici Elenchi. Special mention of the cause of homonyma is made in the very first chapter of this work. We find it again in the Topics, de Interpretatione, the Analytics and the other logical treatises. He opens the Sophietici Elenchi with a general distinction between genuine and apparent reasonings and refutations, and then proceeds to explain why some refutations fail to reach their goal, that is, establish the contradictory of the given conclusion.~ This is the first of a two part article. 1See De Speusippi Academiciscriptis, ed. P. Lang (Bonn, 1911), flag. 32. Simplicius comments that Speusippus defended this formulation and remarks that once the definition is granted, it could be shown that homonymaaxealso synonyma, and vice versa (In Aristotelis Categorias commentarium,ed. C. Kalbfleisch, Commentaria in Aristotelis Graeca, VIII [Berlin, 1907]29, 5-6). "It is impossible in a discussion to bring in the actual things discussed: we use their names as symbols instead of them; and, therefore, we suppose that what follows in the names, follows in the things as well, just as people who calculate suppose in regard to their counters. But the two cases (names and things) are not alike. For names are finite and so is the sum-total of formulae, while things are infinite in number. Inevitably, then, the same formulae, and a single name, have a number of meanings. Accordingly just as, in counting, those who are not 316 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY II It would be an error to claim that Aristotle was the first to observe that homonymy constitutes a source of ambiguity. Plato had already made a diagnosis in the Sophist: At present, you see, all that you and I possess in common is the name. The thing to which each of us gives that name we may perhaps have privately before our eyes, but it is always desirable to have reached an agreement about the thing itself by means of explicit statements rather than be content to use the same word without formulating what it means) The Stranger is addressing Theaetetus in this passage; the issue before them is to hunt down "the troublesome sort of creature" that the sophist is. Plato is suggesting here that when two people embark on a conversation and are using names whose meaning they suspect is not the same for both, it is imperative that they settle their differences and decide upon a common and acceptable meaning of that name. In this particular case, the Stranger and Theaetetus happen to have private meanings on what it means to be a sophist. However, the Stranger suggests, the matter cannot be left to rest at this level of understanding. The discussion cannot continue and hope...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 315-326
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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